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Jailed Catalan deputy leader softens tone on secession ahead of regional vote

A jailed leader of Catalonia’s independence movement has offered an olive branch to the central Spanish government, saying he would adopt a softer tone in his call for secession after the regional vote on December 21.

Oriol Junqueras, who serves as leader of Catalonia’s main pro-independence party Esquerra Republicana (Republican Left), said Monday that he had backed away from demands for unilateral secession from Spain.

The deputy leader in the dissolved Catalan government said if he became next president, he would continue to pursue independence, but would simultaneously “build bridges and shake hands” with Madrid.

“I can assure you that we are democrats before we are separatists and that the aim (of gaining independence) does not always justify the means,” he said in clear contrast to his party’s earlier demand for unilateral secession from Spain.

He said that Catalans who oppose secession from Spain would be respected if he was elected regional leader.

“I would tell them everybody has to be respected and that differences always have to be resolved in a democratic way,” said Junqueras.

The written comments, which came from the prison where Junqueras is being held on allegations of rebellion and sedition, came more than a month after Spain launched a crackdown to prevent an independence declaration in Catalonia, a wealthy region northeast of Spain.

The controversial independence push in late October was based on a referendum earlier that month which Madrid had branded illegal. Senior separatist figures, including, Junqueras were later jailed while former president of the region Carles Puigdemont and four of his ministers escaped to Belgium to avoid prosecution.

Final polls for the Thursday election suggest Junqueras’ Esquerra party and the pro-unity party Ciudadanos (Citizens) running neck-and-neck although both are far short of the 68 seats needed to hold a majority. Puigdemont’s Junts per Catalunya platform (Together for Catalonia), another center-right party, is seen third in the election.

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